By Mary O’KEEFE
Ten years ago the murder of two local boys, Christopher McCulloch, 13, and Blaine Talmo, 14, sent chills across La Crescenta. Their deaths were brutal and in the end another young boy, Michael Demirdjian, 16, was convicted of their murders. For the past 10 years family and friends have had to deal with the constant, “What if” questions, always searching for an elusive closure that may never come.
On July 23, Christopher’s friends and family followed a ritual they have done every year since his death. They gathered at his mother Aileen Bristow’s home and then made the trip to his graveside at Forest Lawn in Glendale. There they said a prayer and shared stories about his life. Then they traveled back to La Crescenta to share a meal and catch up with each other.
At the center of all of this was Christopher’s mother who has in a way become a second mom to all of those friends Christopher left behind.
There is obvious affection and respect as each child, now 20- something year old adults, hugs Bristow and tells her of their future plans. Through these loyal friends Christopher’s memory stays alive.
“They help me as much as I help them,” Bristow said.
Joining them at the Forest Lawn service were two Glendale police officers who had worked the murder case, Sgt. Dennis Smith and Lt. Ian Grimes.
“I want to thank the officers for being here and for continuing to look for answers,” Bristow said during the graveside memorial.
She continues to question if the murders were committed by one boy. The evidence points to Demirdjian, officers said. But like in many tragic and senseless crimes there is always the search for more information – something that can help ease the mind as well as the heart.
Christopher had been arrested for having marijuana in his possession however he, according to his mother, was working through the problem and was ready to face the judge and his new life at Crescenta Valley High School.
But the Friday before his death Christopher left his home and did not contact his mother again. In the past Christopher would get with his friends, forget the time and not call his mother until the early morning hours. Each time Bristow would get mad and he would apologize. On Friday night when she did not hear from him she was worried, but still thought he would call.
On Saturday morning he still wasn’t home. Bristow made some calls and found he had spent the night at a friend’s house.
“I also found out he was with Blaine [Talmo],” she said.
That made her feel a little better because she knew Blaine’s father was in law enforcement and if he was staying at his home he would be safe, she added.
“But I drove around and went to all the malls. I must have just missed him because I found out later he had gone to Miller’s Outpost,” she said.
Miller’s Outpost at the time was located in the Ralph’s Market Plaza on Foothill Boulevard.
Glendale police Sgt. Dennis Smith was the investigating officer for the case. He said the two boys had been at the clothing store earlier in the day and then went to New York Park.
“I never thought to go to the park,” Bristow said.
She drove around the area and found out later that she had just missed her son at several of the places she had been.
“It was like a train set in motion and nothing could stop it,” she said of the events that followed.
What Bristow did not know at the time was the series of events leading to the murders were set in motion days before her son left their home.
The murders were not a drug deal that went bad, like many in the community had thought, but a robbery gone bad, according to Smith.
“We learned that Demirdjian had been in touch with a local drug dealer [days before]. He met with the dealer at Clark Magnet High School and gave him $660 but the dealer did not give him the marijuana,” Smith said.
This set off a week of Demirdjian and other suspects attempting to get the money back from the dealer.
“They had knives and tried to slash tires and guns to threaten but each time the drug dealer was able to get away,” Smith said.
On Saturday according to Smith, Demirdjian had met Blaine and Christopher at the park. They later went to Valley View Elementary campus.
In the meantime Bristow had been calling around still attempting to find her son. She called Blaine’s home and found that he had left after a fight with his father. Bristow called the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station and reported her son missing.
“Early Monday morning about 1 a.m. [Glendale Police Department’s Lt.] Ian Grimes and a woman officer came to my door. I thought Christopher was with them so I was looking around to find him. They walked in and asked about his friends,” she said.
She told the officers that Christopher had been in trouble but was doing better and that he was with Blaine. They asked if they could go to his room and she allowed them in. They asked what clothes he was wearing. She hadn’t seen her son since Friday, so she wasn’t sure.
“Ian [Grimes] then got a call and stepped outside for a minute. He came back in and said, ‘We are investigating a crime.’ I asked what does that have to do with Christopher? He said, ‘We think one of the victims is your son.’ I said that couldn’t be. I gave him a photograph and said you see what he looks like you can tell it’s not Christopher. That’s when he told me they had been beaten so badly,” she recalled.
Bristow had asked if she could go see her son but the officers advised her not to and her husband went to identify him.
From that knock on the door from Glendale police to today Bristow has thought about her son and countless, “What ifs.”
“If you live in an area where there are crimes like this you are prepared, but this, here, our defenses are down,” she said. “There is a darkness below the surface here that we have to be aware of.”
Bristow has joined the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition and speaks to parents about their children and her loss. She wants to do whatever she can to prevent other families from enduring the tragedy her family has faced.
She has another son who is now in high school. Bristow admitted it has been difficult not to overprotect her son.
“The first time I let him go to the movies by himself I sat in the back row and tried to hide behind a big tub of popcorn. He saw me anyway,” she said.
She calls her son her strength and said she tries to take deep breaths when he is out.
“He calls and checks in all the time,” she said.
But she still worries and she is still very aware of those dangers that are out in the community. Her son was not a child who got into trouble over and over again. She said that he was a happy boy who had loyal friends. By all accounts from friends, family and the police these two boys were not heavy drug users or sellers. They were normal kids that made a couple of bad choices. They knew their killer well and had no reason not to trust him. This is what has haunted Bristow for 10 years. Her child, she felt, was back on track and ready to face his future. This was one weekend. She did not see any warning signs.
“Parents always need to know where their children are and who all of their friends are,” she said.
She hopes that people remember that Christopher was a happy kid with a big heart. His caring personality is reflected in his many friends.
“Those kids are so loyal. After 10 years it still amazes me,” Bristow said.